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Hiking for Beginners (and Everyone Else): The '15' Basics for Your Outdoor Adventure on the Trail

You want to get out, you're ready to enjoy mother nature and everything she has to offer, and you want to know where to start. In many cases, you can find a trail near your house, get some mileage in and nothing is needed except maybe a bottle of water.

If you are looking to take a longer trek on the trails and you want to know where to start, there are thousands of suggestions on the internet, and everyone has an opinion. And we think that any suggestion is better than none, as long as you taper that with what's best for you.

While many articles will cover what you need, throughout this article, we have inserted links to additional details on each topic - from prior blogs and other resources.

1 | Research the trail: Start Small, Add Incrementally to Your Distance

Finding the right trail for you can come in a few forms. There is no right or wrong way to find a trail for you to venture out onto.

Apps for Trails and Mapping Software Can Help Find That Perfect Trail

Use apps like All Trails to find preloaded trails or search the maps for yourself for that perfect place to take a trek (BLOG: TrailHack#101: Mapping: Finding Trails on Your Own and the Apps to ‘Lifehack’ Your Adventures). And getting to that trailhead can be easy with a small hack of determining the GPS coordinates and pasting them into Google Maps (BLOG: TrailHack#103: Using GPS Coordinates and Google Maps to Navigate to the Trail Head).

Use .Gov Resources for Maps and Information

Once you arrive at the Trailhead, it's helpful to know where to park and the rules of the specific area where you are located. Whether it's a National Forest or State Park, there is a wealth of information that is available on the internet for you to access (BLOG: Types of Public Lands for Hiking, Photography, and Your Dog: National/State Parks & Forest, BLM, WMA). Use the government websites to look at maps and information about where you are going.

Know Where to Park, Remove Valuables from Plain Sight

While we'd like to think we live in a world where honest rules above all, there are bad actors that do take advantage of cars parked in remote areas. In this case, consider putting items in your trunk, taking your wallet WITH you, and removing anything of value from general view.

Use the Blaze to Navigate

Most trails are marked with Blaze to denote start, stop, and turns. Use this as a resource when trails are weaving back and forth over a stream or you are going through a thickly wooded area (BLOG: Trailhack#106: Reading the Hiking Blaze Markers … Straight, Left, Right, and Start/Stop).

Understanding Elevation Change

If you haven't gone a trail that has an unexpected elevation change, consider yourself lucky. By elevation change, we're referring to steep inclines or long sloping inclines up the side of the mountain. Sure, it's healthy for you, but it sure does feel rough if it goes on for a period of time.

To get a feel for elevation change, understand the Topo Map of where you are going to see where you start and what that elevation is, and how high it will go (BLOG: TrailHack#102: Basics of Topo Maps and Using the OnX Hunt & All Trails Apps). The All Trails app does list the elevation change. Anything over 1,500ft change is certainly going to be moderate, anything over 2500ft change will give you some extra caloric burn.

TIP: If you dislike elevation change, steer clear of Hazel Mountain in Shenandoah National Park. That was the first time that we experienced elevation change that was grueling, we thought it was never going to end. Luckily after 3 miles of steep grade it did (sarcasm).

2| Notify a Friend or Family Member

When you're on the trail, oftentimes there is limited cell coverage depending on where you are going. If it's a National Park or Forest, they are typically in remote areas with limited access to communications. Ensure that a friend or family member knows where you are, where you are going, or when you will be expected back.

3 | Consider Augmenting Communication Access with Garmin InReach

4 | Check the Weather

The weather forecast is straight forward and you can check that as much as your want. If you're an outdoor junkie, you might do it more frequently. If it's not the top of the list, check it the night before (BLOG: The Weather Apps We Use: It’s Art & Science and There Are Many Options…)

And there are many resources to tap into, so download your favorite app and keep tabs on what to pack and what to expect. Just be ready to anticipate the day and what you'll have in store - which might include needing a rain shell or it could be the 70s and amazing.

5 | Bring a Backpack or Hip Pack

Inevitably you're going to have 'stuff' with you. If the trek is further than a stroll through a local trail next to a park and you might want to have 'stuff' with you, consider getting a pack. Stroll down the aisles at REI or your local outfitter and find a pack that works for you.

If you're going to take lunch with you, need a first aid kit, or a jacket for layers - the backpack is a must. If it's just water and snacks, take a peek at the hip packs. They're making a comeback and can equip you with water bottles for yourself and your pup plus provide some storage space.

6 | Bring Water and Snacks

Bring water. It's commonly reported that underestimation of the amount of water needed when hiking is the top reason for Search and Rescue operations and extractions. You are better to have more water than you need. Consider it a workout.

And if you don't want to deal with a water bladder, get a Hardside Hydration for your Nalgene (BLOG: Trailhack#108: Ditch the Water Bladder. Get a Nalgene + Hardside Hydration).

7 | Get a First Aid Kit

If you're venturing on the trail, it's always a good practice to carry a First Aid Kit. While I won't claim to be a medical expert, we have had a number of small issues on the trail where the First Aid Kit came in handy (BLOG: First Aid: What first aid items do I bring with me hiking? Resources for hiking first aid.)

8 | Right Shoes, Right Socks

Our position is Hiking Boots in the wintertime, Trail Runners in the summertime. Make the call on the collar months based on the temperature outside and weather forecast (BLOG: Hiking Boots vs. Trail Runners: Why and When should I use either…).

For socks, my go-to is Smartwool Performance Hiking Cushion socks. Merino seems to work the best for us in the winter and in the summer, I'll admit it, I hike with low ankle socks in my trail runners.

And we're not fans of gravel guards. Unless you're summiting Mt. Hood, I can't see why these are even necessary. I'm sorry, they look ridiculous too.

9 | Put Your Keys in a Ziplock

If you're going to be anywhere near water, put your car keys and wallet in a ziplock baggie. It's easy and it's one more layer of security from getting stuck on the trail.

10 | Make Sure Your Prepared for the Dog: Water and Snacks

Hiking with Fido can be a rewarding experience. It's fun to be outside together, but don't let a good time turn south with a lack of preparation. There are simple things that you can do to ensure that you're good - the first being, bring water for your dog (BLOG: Hiking with Dogs: Thoughts on Preparedness & Gear). Outside of having essentials, bring snacks and even something with sugar. We bring honey just in case we start to see signs of blood sugar issues.

11 | Bring Duct Tape or Gear Aid Tenacious Tape Repair Tape

Duct tape fixes everything. Bring a small pre-rolled-up length of tape for fixing everything from a sole to your gear (BLOG: TrailHack#105: Duct Tape, It Fixes Just About Everything).

12 | Bring a Multitool

My preferred Multitool is the Leatherman Free P4, but pretty much any multitool or utility knife is better than nothing (GEAR LIST: Gear Guide | Equipment. Tech. Clothing.) You never really know when you'll need to cut something, unscrew, clip, or pry something. We think it's worth having one.

13 | Dress in Layers

If it's the middle of summer, disregard it. If it's collar season, think about the temperature. If it's winter, grab a read about dressing in layers (BLOG: Outdoor Adventures: Dressing in Layers for Hiking and Trail Photography). There is nothing worse than being cold or wet.

And if you're venturing out in the rain, highly recommend you take an outer shell that has some level of waterproofing with you (BLOG: Hiking in the Rain (or Snow) — No Need to Get (Too) Wet, Here's Why...). It will make a difference.

14 | Time Your Trek Right

If you're going early or late, there are a few issues that you can run into with lack of daylight. Mainly the inability to see the trail. If you're going to be hiking around any time where the light will be an issue, consider getting a headlamp. If you are deliberately trying to see a sunrise or sunset, then leverage an app to calculate departure and return times, there are plenty of resources to help you (BLOG: Trailhack#109: Hiking during the Golden Hour and the Blue Hour, Not Just for Photographers).

15 | Take Pictures and Enjoy Being Outside!

And don't forget to take a picture for your Year Ago Today. While it's important to live in the moment outside and enjoy your surroundings, try not to forget to get a picture.

We hope that this was helpful and provided you with some resources. Happy hiking and get outside!


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